Teaching is not for wimps


It’s been a long day at work. I have a class full of very “needy,” in the emotional sense, kids. Kids whose home lives are complicated and full of stress due to family and economic worries. I do what I can for them, but I can’t be everything. Some days I feel pulled in 27 different directions. I think it’s more difficult this year than the year I had 36 students, which was insane.

A day in the life: first thing today after math wakeups, the kids worked on a computerized math program for 15 minutes, as they do every day, and the next thing we did was a daily grammar exercise. We usually write (compose) at the beginning of the week, rough draft and final copy. Next was math, during which I taught (for the fourth time or more, I’ve lost track) how to convert a fraction to a decimal, and how to find the percent. Oh, and I forgot the fire drill thrown in there during language time. All the kids did a good job of being quiet and doing what they were supposed to do, which was to line up on the field quickly and quietly. I think they knew after the last one that I meant business when I said they were to do it in this manner. I wasn’t being mean; it could save their lives some day if it turned out to be real.

During the work day I am not sitting on my butt at my desk. I do not have time to do anything during my day except think about these kids, and work with them as a group, or one-on-one. While all that is going on, I am listening, helping, mothering, playing psychologist, worrying, providing snacks if necessary (child did not eat breakfast, or didn’t get enough lunch), and playing many other roles that I don’t have time to categorize.

Next, they had art, and I got myself caught up with grading for the first time in about a month. It takes me a long time to work through a stack of writing compositions, several minutes for each paper to do it properly. Papers stack up on my desk, and I can’t do it during regular hours. I am busy doing my job, which is working with the kids.

After lunch, we have reading, which takes many forms, and then social studies. But this afternoon was intense because one of my students who needs a lot of attention needed more than usual. With the help of the social worker, we managed to get him calmed down, and then it was time for all of them to go home. But not before I helped another student try and find her homework paper to take home and work on. She was panicking, and I helped her go through her desk and backpack. We never did find it, and I told her not to worry about it all night, we would get it taken care of in the morning.

Then I had to go out to bus duty, which means taking the kids out to the bus loading area across the playground. Of course I was late because I’d been digging for that homework paper, but I still went out. After that I had to attend a required class, hoops to jump through for Prop. 301 money that the voters approved for teachers to get without strings attached. In reality, we would never get anything that easily. If people only knew what they make us do for the mere pittance we get for this bonus they would be appalled. Or not.

On the way home, after going to the gym to relieve some of the stress, I stopped to get one of the kids a box of crayons. He was upset because another kid had brand new crayons, and he did not. There is more to this story, of course, none of which can be shared here.

Every day is like this, but with slightly different circumstances and problems to solve.

As I write this, I am exhausted, so I suppose I should go to bed. I have to get up and do it all over again tomorrow. This is not a “cake job” as some who are ignorant of what it entails might imagine. It’s not that each day is grueling in many ways, it’s that it is day after day after day of the intensity. Sometimes it gets to be almost too much. But, it makes those “shining moments” when a child “gets” something, or writes “thank you” and a little smiley face on the whiteboard really poignant.

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2 thoughts on “Teaching is not for wimps

  1. I agree with your title 110%. And the fourth grade teacher and first grade teacher in my family would probably have a higher percentage on their agreement (Hmm. Maybe i should figure out those percentages like you teach since I come up with more than 100%. Ha ha).

    Anyway, my days as a substitute taught me that this is a challenging job no matter what you get paid. And for the salary provided, you work a lot of hours at a low dollars per hour. My wife (the first grade teacher) said they will end up not getting any of their 301 money because of rules implemented by the charter school where she works (including splitting the amount for the school with non-teacher admin staff).

    Still, both she and my daughter continue to do it, year after year, so they must feel that same satisfaction you mentioned for those kids that “get it.”

    Thanks to all of you teachers. Keep it up.

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